When, on 9 May 1950, the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman announced the ambition of integrating European economies so closely that war was “not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible”, little could he have imagined at a time when dictatorships outnumbered democracies in Europe, that one day the European Union would comprise 27 member states.
The creation and enlargement of the European Union is something to be celebrated. But as the conflicts across the countries of the former Yugoslavia and Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine reminds us, peace remains fragile. The scenes coming out of Ukraine are heartbreaking and shocking. Despite the EU’s diversity of opinion on many issues however, we are united in our outrage at Russia’s actions.
We have demonstrated our determination to act together. In part because of the painful lessons we learned from conflicts like in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Not only to economically cripple President Putin’s war machine with our unprecedented sanctions but also to provide significant arms to help Ukraine defend itself.
The situation in Ukraine reminds us that we must be firm about defending our founding values as a Union. Human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law, and human rights are not just words written into the Treaty of Lisbon, they are the principles by which we work. They are also benchmarks on which accession to the EU is assessed.
From our side, the political will for Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Western Balkans to become EU member states has been repeatedly underlined at the highest level, including by President von der Leyen, President Michel and HR/VP Borrell. Opinion polls also regularly reveal that over three quarters of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s citizens support EU accession. There can be no accession without reforms and a real societal transformation. This is not about unwillingness on the EU’s part, but about the country’s readiness to be a part of the European economic market, to participate in compromise decision-making in our institutions, and to preserve European standards and values while doing so.
What can be done to make this ambition a reality? The path to EU is clearly laid out in the 14 key priorities of the European Commission’s Opinion on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s application for EU membership. We cannot ignore that no progress was made during the last year, but on Europe Day, I do not want to focus on the negatives.
In contrast, every time I or the Ambassadors of the EU Member States talk to businesses, civil society, journalists, youth, cultural leaders and environmental activists we are reminded how much talent, inventiveness, energy, resilience and creativity there is in this country, and how the EU would benefit from Bosnia and Herzegovina’s membership, as well as the other way around.
In the past few days, I have attended Europe Day events in Travnik, Trebinje and Sarajevo and met sportspersons, cultural figures, business owners, agricultural producers, and most pleasant of all, young people. All are in their own way contributing to improving life in Bosnia and Herzegovina, not for a better life tomorrow, but a better life today. And all are being disserved by too many leaders of the country, who have actively shunned responsibility for common sense reforms that would do a lot more to improve life for this country’s citizens. These people are tired of the cycle of political squabbles, manufactured crises and wasted opportunities.
Our work with the political leaders of this country continues. We must. Those who are elected by the citizens should be our key partners to drive forward the reforms necessary for EU membership. But let me use the occasion of Europe Day to re-affirm that the EU will not only work with political leaders, but also continue to protect, to promote and empower those outside politics who help BiH to reach its real potential and who work tirelessly to make its democracy, fundamental freedoms, rule of law and market economy less fragile.
To quote President Von Der Leyen, the European Union is not only about parties and politics, rules or regulations, markets or currencies. It is ultimately – and above all else – about people and their aspirations. It is about people standing together. For their liberty, for their values, simply for a better future.
I wish everyone a Happy Europe Day with a hope that the best of this country can overcome its challenges and we can soon celebrate reforms that will put Bosnia and Herzegovina firmly on the path to the EU. I promise to continue doing everything I can to push for this to happen. Because the citizens of this country deserve no less.